Apart from Lincoln’s work in selecting, and in large measure in directing, the generals, he had a further important relation with the army as a whole. We are familiar with the term “the man behind the gun.” It is a truism to say that the gun has little value whether for offence or for defence unless the man behind it possesses the right kind of spirit which will infuse and guide his purpose and his action with the gun. For the long years of the War, the Commander-in-chief was the man behind all the guns in the field. The men in the front came to have a realising sense of the infinite patience, the persistent hopefulness, the steadiness of spirit, the devoted watchfulness of the great captain in Washington. It was through the spirit of Lincoln that the spirit in the ranks was preserved during the long months of discouragement and the many defeats and retreats. The final advance of Grant which ended at Appomattox, and the triumphant march of Sherman which culminated in the surrender at Goldsborough of the last of the armies of the Confederacy, were the results of the inspiration, given alike to soldier and to general, from the patient and devoted soul of the nation’s leader.
In March, 1862, Lincoln received the news of the victory won at Pea Ridge, in Arkansas, by Curtis and Sigel, a battle which had lasted three days. The first day was a defeat and our troops were forced back; the fighting of the second resulted in what might be called a drawn battle; but on the third, our army broke its way through the enclosing lines, bringing the heavier loss to the Confederates, and regained its base. This battle was in a sense typical of much of the fighting of the War. It was one of a long series of fights which continued for more than one day. The history of the War presents many instances of battles that lasted two days, three days, four days, and in one case seven days. It was difficult to convince the American soldier, on either side of the line, that he was beaten. The general might lose his head, but the soldiers, in the larger number of cases, went on fighting until, with a new leader or with more intelligent dispositions on the part of the original leader, a first disaster had been repaired. There is no example in modern history of fighting of such stubborn character, or it is fairer to say, there was no example until the Russo-Japanese War in Manchuria. The record shows that European armies, when outgeneralled or outmanoeuvred, had the habit of retiring from the field, sometimes in good order, more frequently in a state of demoralisation. The American soldier fought the thing out because he thought the thing out. The patience and persistence of the soldier in the field was characteristic of, and, it may fairly be claimed, was in part due to, the patience and persistence of the great leader in Washington.